When a young person is in trouble, positive intervention can mean the difference between a bright future and one with challenges. In Kentucky, court designated workers process complaints filed against children under age 18 prior to any action taken in formal court. This gives CDWs the opportunity to help thousands of juveniles every year.
When appropriate, young people are diverted from the formal court system. Those eligible for diversion will not have a formal court record if they successfully complete the supervised program.
The CDW Program began in 1986 when the Kentucky General Assembly established a statewide pre-court program to ensure that diverted youth receive due process and equitable outcomes. The Division of Juvenile Services operates the program, which makes CDWs available 24/7 in every Kentucky county.
Duties of a Court Designated Worker
CDWs are responsible for:
- Processing public and status complaints on children under age 18
- Assisting law enforcement in the custody process
- Conducting preliminary investigations and interviews
- Developing and supervising diversion agreements
The CDW receives all complaints, which fall into two categories, status offenses and public offenses. Status offenses are noncriminal forms of juvenile behavior, such as running away from home, not attending school, tobacco and alcohol offenses, and exhibiting beyond-control behavior at home or at school. Public offenses are defined in the same terms as adult charges.
Anyone can file a complaint against a juvenile, including a police officer, victim, parent or school official. Juveniles who have a complaint filed against them are given the opportunity to meet with a CDW.
Custody Instead of Arrest
Under Kentucky's juvenile justice system, children are taken into custody instead of being arrested. CDWs assist law enforcement officials in finding appropriate placements, such as with parents or guardians, relatives or an emergency shelter. Detention may be authorized by a judge if there are concerns that a juvenile may reoffend, fail to appear for court or be a safety risk.
CDWs always strive to find the least-restrictive option when making placement decisions. They have five alternatives to consider:
- Parent or custodial guardian, unless prohibited by the court for alleged abuse
- Responsible adult, such as a relative, neighbor or friend of family
- Emergency shelter
- Crisis stabilization units, if applicable
- Inpatient mental health assessment, if applicable
The goal of diversion is to reduce further involvement in the court system by providing programs based on education, treatment and accountability. CDWs follow established criteria to determine if a juvenile is eligible to participate in a diversion agreement or if the case, by law, must be referred to formal court.
Eligible juveniles who agree to the informal process enter into a diversion agreement that holds them accountable for past actions and provides tools to manage current behavioral issues. These tools include:
- Prevention and educational programs
- Service learning projects
- Community service
- School attendance
CDWs provide case management and monitoring throughout the diversion program, which can last up to six months. When the juvenile successfully completes diversion, the case is closed and no formal court record is created.
Family Accountability, Intervention, and Response Teams work in conjunction with court designated workers to keep juveniles out of the formal court system by providing greater access to treatment services and diversion programs. Members of the multidisciplinary FAIR Teams represent the legal system, schools, treatment providers and juvenile justice agencies. Their purpose is to promote better outcomes for youth by providing an alternative to formal court through enhanced case management plans.
FAIR Team members review diversion agreements and service referrals to ensure young people are receiving effective, community-based interventions to reduce their risk factors and address their needs. As a result of the screening, assessment and case management processes applied by the FAIR Teams, more juvenile cases are being handled out of court through successful diversion or dismissal. FAIR Teams operate in all 60 judicial districts and were created as a result of Senate Bill 200, which reformed the state’s juvenile code in 2014.
Juvenile Justice Reform Under Senate Bill 200
The passage of Senate Bill 200 in 2014 was a tipping point for the welfare of Kentucky’s youth. Leaders from all three branches of state government worked together to enact sweeping changes to the state’s juvenile justice system. The goal was to improve the treatment of young offenders by steering them into community-based treatment as an alternative to incarceration. Because that goal dovetails with the work of the CDW Program, CDWs found themselves on the front lines of juvenile justice reform in Kentucky. SB 200 established evidence-based practices, accountability through data sharing and performance measures, improved communication and collaboration, and a more effective use of funds and resources in an effort to produce better outcomes for youth and their families.
SB 200 has been studied to determine its impact and two evaluations can be found here:
Kentucky Juvenile Justice Reform Evaluation: Assessing the Effects of SB 200 on Youth Dispositional Outcomes and Racial and Ethnic Disparities, Office of Justice Programs, Dec. 2020